Defense attorneys argued that the troubled past and psychiatric history of the gunman who killed 11 people at a Pittsburgh synagogue in October 2018 should persuade jurors to spare his life.
After weeks of testimony about the gunman’s mental health — he was involuntarily committed to psychiatric facilities three times, tried to kill himself more than once and, as a young boy, tried to set fire to his mother — the jury in early July determined. that he was entitled to a death sentence.
But they still had to make a separate ruling on whether to impose it.
Defense experts testified that they had diagnosed the gunman, Robert Bowers, 50, with schizophrenia and other serious mental disorders, saying he had signs of “permanent brain damage” and that he suffered from paranoia and delusions.
Experts called by the prosecution disputed the findings on schizophrenia and delusions, arguing that Mr. Bowers believed in racist ideas that are widespread.
His defense team includes Judy Clarke, a lawyer with extensive experience defending people accused of capital crimes, including the Unabomber, one of the Boston Marathon bombers, and the man who opened fire in a grocery store parking lot in Arizona, killing six people and injured 13, including former representative Gabrielle Giffords.
His lawyers repeatedly, but unsuccessfully, challenged the government’s intention to seek the death penalty. In a filing this year, the defense argued that under Attorney General Merrick B. Garland, the Justice Department had been arbitrary in deciding whether to pursue the death penalty. They cited hundreds of murder cases in which Mr. Garland had chosen not to seek the death penalty, including the 2019 mass shooting by an anti-immigrant extremist at a Walmart in El Paso.
The government rejected these arguments by insisting that there were factors in this case such as Mr. Bowers’ open anti-Semitism and his decision to attack during a church service “make the death penalty specifically warranted here.”
During the sentencing hearing in the trial, witnesses described how Mr. Bowers’ already fragile mental state began to spiral rapidly, starting in 2014 when he lost his grandfather, his home and his one close friend in quick succession.
A forensic psychiatrist who examined Mr. Bowers for nearly 40 hours and diagnosed him with schizophrenia, said he had been possessed by visions of Satan and an apocalyptic race war, a delusion that drove his decision to attack the Pittsburgh synagogue.